Iran and Post-Mubarak Middle East

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

Active ImageDuring the past decades, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, and Israel have been major elements of political trends and developments as well as power equations in the Middle East. Political developments which have led to ouster of Mubarak from power in early months of 2011 will create new power equations and new actors. Nobody can deny that in a post-Mubarak Middle East, Iran will be an important player in view of its history, national identity, and strategic significance. However, many domestic, regional and international factors are at work to determine the quality and quantity of Iran’s position in regional power equations of the Middle East.

In domestic terms, people’s support for the Iranian political system will have great bearing on the country’s future position in the region. The fact that foreign policy is an extension of domestic policies is true about the Iranian foreign policy especially when it comes to interactions in a Middle East without Mubarak. Most political elites of Iran maintain that the country’s future approach to developments in the Middle East should be based on Iran’s identity and strategic needs and conform to regional and global realities while pursuing the goal of effective governance in the region. The necessity of spiritual support for freedom and justice seeking movements in the Middle East has been accepted by the majority of the political elites in Iran. Now that the new Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, puts high emphasis on the need to interact with Iran’s neighbors and pursue a developmental diplomacy, one can expect foreign policymakers to support the new approach to the Middle East developments.

Popularity and efficiency of existing regional models for interaction with international system at national, regional and international levels are important factors which determine Iran’s future position. Such models currently exist in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.

Another important factor influencing Iran’s future position in regional interactions is the amount of influence that Iran sways on its partners and spheres of influence. Undoubtedly, continued presence of Iran’s partners like Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Syria, Iraqi Shia groups and other actors conforming to Iran’s regional views, will further strengthen Iran’s position in the region.

One of the most important international variables influencing Iran’s role in post-Mubarak Middle East is presence and influence of big powers on regional developments and evolving configuration. The role played by the United States should be taken seriously. Stephen Kinzer has noted that during the recent developments in the Middle East, “the US is watching from the sidelines.” If this situation continued and the United States and other big international powers remained passive toward the Middle East developments, Iran may be able to claim an even more influential role in the Middle East without Mubarak.

It is still premature in view of the available data and information to talk about Iran’s status in the new Middle East. In addition to the above facts, turnover of political elites in Iran and emergence of new political actors in Egypt and other Arab countries that are experiencing transition to democracy, in addition to relations between Arabs and Israelis and possible resetting of US foreign policy in the Middle East, are all influential in determining Iran’s future position in the region.

It seems that Iran’s position in post-Mubarak Middle East can and will be subject of substantial political and academic speculations. The common denominator of those speculations is continued strategic rivalry and confrontation between Iran and the United States in the Middle East. Let’s not forget that Iran’s position in the new Middle East will be a function of the country’s Shia identity and possible changes in its foreign policy discourse. If at odds with emerging international equations, that discourse will have to face remarkable reactions from major regional and international actors that will not be limited to the United States.